The EVOLUTION motor show is a relatively new addition to the UK’s motor show calendar and centers around ultra-low-emission vehicles.
First opened to the public in 2014, the show has gathered momentum and runs the day after the industry-only GreenFleet show. It holds an added attraction as it’s a show where you can actually drive the cars. Excited by the prospect, I eagerly signed up.
The idea of the EVOLUTION show is to promote low-emission vehicles and showcase the latest technologies. Various manufacturers attended, including Tesla, BMW, Jaguar Land Rover and Honda.
This year’s event was held at the Royal Highland Centre in Edinburgh and I had been looking forward to going along and seeing it for myself. After all, electric cars, hydrogen technology and ultra-low emissions are now a huge part of motoring in all its forms.
I knew there would be stiff competition for test drives, so I headed to the BMW stand to try to bag a drive in the i8 or i3. I managed to get an afternoon slot for the i3, but I think you had to part with a kidney or something to drive the i8, so I headed off to the Renault stand to ask about the tiny Twizy.
If you haven’t driven a Twizy, then phone your Renault dealer and get it sorted – it’s a real giggle! The best way I can describe it is that it’s a cross between a Smart car and one of those plastic pedal-cars you’d buy for a three-year-old, and it never fails to put a smile on your face!
Powered by an electric motor, it’s rear-engined and also rear-wheel drive, making it a whole bundle of fun. There are two seats, with the passenger’s being directly behind the driver’s.
I clambered aboard and the kind man from Renault closed the scissor door (yup, just like a supercar) as I belted myself in. The controls are very simple – a switch for changing between drive, neutral and reverse, and a manual handbrake below the centre console.
With its small size and a range of around 60 miles, the Twizy is clearly designed for short journeys and city driving. It has great visibility and is so easy to manoeuver.
The Twizy is not too responsive unless you give the throttle a fair old poke, but once you are used to it it’s so easy to drive.
I built up some speed and joined the small track just next to the exhibition centre, whereupon I unleashed the gods of hellfire (or should that be kilowatts of fury?) and the little machine started to sing at an increasingly high pitch.
I was startled by how quickly the Twizy picked up speed, and I managed just over 50mph on the straight before chickening out and slowing for a sweeping left-hander. I didn’t think the Renault guys would be very happy if I binned it…
The suspension was a good deal harder than I expected, but not punishingly so, and the Gallic wonder responded well to steering inputs bearing in mind its narrow track and short wheelbase.
I’d imagine that driving on the public roads would be a different proposition, but the diminutive Twizy didn’t feel out of its depth among the bigger, more powerful machines on the track.
The BMW i3 is towards the other end of the scale, being the sort of car to suit a small family. The i3 was the first car I drove at the show, making it also the first electric car I had ever driven.
I was amazed by how smooth it was, the linear acceleration and how well it rode. The absence of internal combustion was strange at first, but I soon got used to the initially eerie hum of the electric motor and the single-speed transmission.
With skinny tyres and being quite a tall car, I expected a fair bit of understeer. How wrong I was. The i3 had minimal body roll, catapulted out of corners and gobbled up the straights without breaking a sweat.
I learned about the construction of the car, that most of the weight is low down to ensure a better centre of gravity. Also, the materials used to construct the car are very light, including carbon-fiber reinforced plastic. This went a long way to explaining the good handling, as did the car’s sub-1200kg (around 2600lb) weight.
Lots of recycled and recyclable materials are used in the car’s construction and I think this car gives us a good idea of what typical motoring will be like in the near future.
The i3’s range is around 80-100 miles, but revised technology should increase that to around 120 miles in the 2017 car.
The i3 can be charged using an array of methods, but can be charged from a normal socket. There is a special fast-charge option (using DC public charging stations) which can charge the battery from 0 to 80 per cent in around 30 minutes.
This is obviously very different to rocking up at your local gas station and filling up in a few minutes, but as electric vehicle technology develops, the electric car’s appeal, like its range, grows.
I still think the hydrogen-powered car has a place in the motoring world, and I would like to explore that technology further. Sadly, the hydrogen-powered Toyota Mirai was unavailable to drive at EVOLUTION because there wasn’t a hydrogen filling station anywhere nearby… I guess the infrastructure still has a way to go.
Other exhibitors at the show included Co-wheels, which is a national car club run as a social enterprise, and E-Car, which was the UK’s first pay-per-use car club.
The most surprising stand, for me at least, was the one belonging to Knockhill racing circuit. I stopped to look at the stand and was politely approached by their representative, whose opening gambit, ‘Bet you’re wondering what we’re doing here’, was spot on!
Knockhill is Scotland’s premier race track and has introduced a number of green initiatives, such as converting all of its go-karts to run on LPG, and we had a very interesting chat about the challenges facing race tracks as they try to reduce their energy consumption.
If you fancy finding out more about Knockhill, I recommend visiting the website and seeing what’s on offer.
EVOLUTION was well organised and well attended. I would have loved to have driven the Tesla Model S, but that will have to wait until a later date.
I underestimated how popular the show would be and I’m happy about that. It was great to learn and hear about new technology, and to drive the cars. If you haven’t driven an electric car yet, I urge you to take the plunge – it’s an exciting departure for motoring.